Mussels: Are They Good for You?

There are many kinds of mussels, both freshwater and saltwater, but the variety that is most likely to land on your plate is the blue mussel. Also known as edible mussels, these creatures live in a blue-black bivalve shell. The mussel itself is tan-colored and full of protein, vitamins, and minerals. 

Mussels mostly stay in one place, eating plankton that they filter from the water. Because they are filter feeders, they sometimes consume bacteria and toxins, making them potentially dangerous for you to eat. Cooking destroys the majority of contaminants, but some may remain.

Farm-raised mussels grow on ropes that hang in the ocean. They are cleaner because they don't sit on the ocean floor, but they can still contain toxins. The health benefits of mussels are not worth the risks for certain groups of people.  

Nutrition Information

Mussels are nutritionally rich. One three-ounce serving of steamed blue mussels contains:

  • Calories: 146
  • Protein: 20 grams
  • Fat: 4 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 6 grams
  • Fiber: 0 grams
  • Sugar: 0 grams

Mussels contain many vitamins and minerals, including:

Potential Health Benefits of Mussels

Mussels have an impressive nutritional profile. Their unique mixture of nutrients means that they have several health benefits, including:

High-Quality Protein

Mussels and other shellfish are excellent sources of protein, containing all the essential amino acids. Their protein content is superior to that found in fish with fins. The protein in mussels is easy to digest, so the body gets the full benefit. Protein plays multiple roles in your overall health, building muscle, boosting the immune system, strengthening bone, and healing injuries. Just three ounces of mussels provides 40% of the daily protein needed by the average person. 

Anemia Prevention

Mussels are an excellent source of iron. One three-ounce serving provides about one-third of the daily value for iron. Iron prevents the most common form of anemia, which can cause fatigue and weakness. Many women, including about half of pregnant women, do not get enough iron in their diet. Mussels are also high in vitamin B12, needed for the production of red blood cells

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Heart Health

Omega-3 fatty acids are necessary for heart health. They keep your heartbeat regular, lower blood pressure, and help blood vessels work as they should. Mussels are rich in the marine Omega-3s, EPA and DHA. 

Weight Loss

If you are trying to lose weight, mussels give you a lot of nutrition without a lot of calories. Prepare the mussels in a way that does not add calories. Try steaming them and adding flavor with no-calorie seasonings.  

Potential Risks of Mussels

Mussels are valuable to the ecosystem because they can remove many contaminants from water. They can even clean E. coli from water and still be safe to eat. There are some conditions under which mussels are not safe to eat. You should know these health risks of eating mussels: 

Shellfish Poisoning

Eating shellfish during a red tide can cause a condition called shellfish poisoning paralysis. Gastrointestinal distress occurs first. Muscle paralysis may follow. If the person has eaten a lot of the contaminated shellfish, coma and death can follow. You are unlikely to get shellfish poisoning paralysis from commercial shellfish. If you harvest your own shellfish, check your local health department or fish and game agency for any health alerts.  

Mercury Content

Some people avoid eating shellfish because they are worried about mercury. While it's true that most fish and shellfish contain mercury, eating up to 12 ounces a week should not be hazardous to your health. You can also avoid larger fish like swordfish that accumulate more mercury. Pregnant women should follow stricter guidelines.

Allergies

Allergic reactions to shellfish are fairly common and can be life-threatening. Shrimp is the shellfish most likely to cause problems, but those with shellfish allergies should avoid all shellfish.

Anyone affected by shellfish allergies should have a prescription for epinephrine, and should also be vigilant about avoiding hidden shellfish, especially when dining out.

Dangers of Raw Mussels

Some people enjoy raw mussels, but they can be hazardous to certain people who are vulnerable to contaminants. Those with cancer, liver disease, diabetes, immune system ailments, or digestive disorders should eat mussels only when they have been thoroughly cooked. 

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on September 25, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

Berkeley Wellness: "The Best Farmed Shellfish Options."

Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety: "Shellfish: Nutritive Value, Health Benefits, and Consumer Safety." 

ESHA Research, Inc., Salem, Oregon: "Mussels, blue, steamed."

Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health: "Omega-3 Fatty Acids: An Essential Contribution."

Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference: "Mussels."

Mayo Clinic: "Women's Wellness: "Eating fish during pregnancy."

Phys.org: "Mussels, 'super-filters' that can help beat water pollution."

Seafood Health Facts: Making Smart Choices: "Raw Molluscan Shellfish."

Washington State Department of Health: "Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning."

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